The Situationist

Archive for November, 2009

Motivated Judicial Reasoning

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 30, 2009

In her recent book, Law, Politics, and Perception: How Policy Preferences Influence Legal Reasoning (2009), Eileen Braman examines how policy preferences and legal authority interact to influence judicial decision making.  Here’s the book’s abstract.

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Are judges’ decisions more likely to be based on personal inclinations or legal authority? The answer, Eileen Braman argues, is both. Law, Politics, and Perception brings cognitive psychology to bear on the question of the relative importance of norms of legal reasoning versus decision markers’ policy preferences in legal decision-making. While Braman acknowledges that decision makers’ attitudes—or, more precisely, their preference for policy outcomes—can play a significant role in judicial decisions, she also believes that decision-makers’ belief that they must abide by accepted rules of legal analysis significantly limits the role of preferences in their judgments. To reconcile these competing factors, Braman posits that judges engage in “motivated reasoning,” a biased process in which decision-makers are unconsciously predisposed to find legal authority that is consistent with their own preferences more convincing than those that go against them. But Braman also provides evidence that the scope of motivated reasoning is limited. Objective case facts and accepted norms of legal reasoning can often inhibit decision makers’ ability to reach conclusions consistent with their preferences.

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Judicial Activism,” “The Situation of Biased Perceptions,” “The Bias of the Bar?,” “Judicial Ideology – Abstract,” The Situation of Judicial Methods - Abstract,” “The Situation of Constitutional Beliefs – Abstract,” The Political Situation of Judicial Activism,” Ideology is Back!,” “The Situation of Judges (1),” The Situation of Judges (2),” Blinking on the Bench,” “The Situation of Judging – Part I,” “The Situation of Judging – Part II,” and “Justice Thomas and the Conservative Hypocrisy.”

Posted in Abstracts, Book, Choice Myth, Ideology, Law, Legal Theory | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Racial Attitudes in the Presidential Race

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 29, 2009

From Project Implicit Blog:

An article by Project Implicit researchers published this month in Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy reports evidence that both implicit and explicit race attitudes were related to intended vote in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. 1,057 registered voters completed a study conducted at Project Implicit’s research website during the week before the presidential election. The participants completed multiple measures of racial attitudes including self-reported feelings of warmth toward Blacks and Whites, a measure of “symbolic” racism, two implicit measures of racial attitudes – a brief version of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) and the Affective Misattribution Procedure (AMP), and reported their intended vote. Analyses suggested that participants who showed strong implicit and self-reported favoring of Whites compared to Blacks were also more likely to intend to vote for John McCain instead of Barack Obama. Collectively, the four race attitude measures accounted for 21% of the variation in intended vote. Further, after including liberalism-conservatism that is a (strong) predictor of vote and related to race attitudes, the race attitude measures still predicted 2% (p-value = 10e-24) of voting intention variance. Also, implicit and self-reported racial attitude measures each contributed unique predictive validity of intended vote. Of course, like any study of these relations, the data are correlational leaving open the possibility of unseen third-variables that are determinants of both racial attitudes and intended vote. However, in the absence of plausible alternative accounts, these results strongly suggest that race attitudes played a role in determining the 2008 Presidential vote.

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For a sample or related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Pollworkers and Voting Booths – Abstract,” The Racial Situation of Voting,” “Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” “The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters,” On Being a Mindful Voter,” “Implicit Associations in the 2008 Presidential Election,” “The Situation of Political Animals,” and “Your Brain on Politics.”

To visit the Project Implicit website and find out more about implicit associations, click here. You can take the Policy IAT here.

Posted in Abstracts, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Politics, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Measuring Implicit Attitudes

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 28, 2009

From University of Washington News

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Study supports validity of test that indicates widespread unconscious bias

In the decade since the Implicit Association Test was introduced, its most surprising and controversial finding is its indication that about 70 percent of those who took a version of the test that measures racial attitudes have an unconscious, or implicit, preference for white people compared to blacks. This contrasts with figures generally under 20 percent for self report, or survey, measures of race bias.

A new study (pdf here) validates those findings, showing that the Implicit Association Test, a psychological tool, has validity in predicting behavior and, in particular, that it has significantly greater validity than self-reports in the socially sensitive topics of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and age.

The research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, is an overview and analysis of 122 published and unpublished reports of 184 different research studies. In this analysis, 85 percent of the studies also included self-reporting measures of the type generally used in surveys. This allowed the researchers, headed by University of Washington psychology Professor Anthony Greenwald, to compare the test’s success in predicting social behavior and judgment with the success of self-reports.

“In socially sensitive areas, especially black-white interracial behavior, the test had significantly greater predictive value than self-reports. This finding establishes the Implicit Association Test’s value in research to understand the roots of race and other discrimination,” said Greenwald. “What was especially surprising was how ineffective standard self-report measurers were in the areas in which the test measures have been of greatest interest – predicting interracial behavior.”

Greenwald created the Implicit Association Test in 1998 and he and [Situationist Contributor] Mahzarin Banaji, a Harvard psychology professor, and [Situationist Contributor] Brian Nosek, a University of Virginia associate professor of psychology, further developed it. Since then the test has been used in more than 1,000 research studies around the world. More than 10 million versions of the test have been completed at an Internet site where they are available as a self-administer demonstration.

The research looked at studies covering nine different areas – consumer preference, black-white interracial behavior, personality differences, clinical phenomena, alcohol and drug use, non-racial intergroup behavior, gender and sexual orientation, close relationships and political preferences.

Findings also showed that:

  • Across all nine of these areas, measures of the test were useful in predicting social behavior.
  • Both the test, which is implicit, and self-reports, which are explicit, had predictive validity independent of each other. This suggests the desirability of using both types of measure in surveys and applied research studies.
  • In consumer and political preferences both measures effectively predicted behavior, but self-reports had significantly greater predictive validity.

Studies in the research came from a number of countries including Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Poland and the United States. They looked at such topics as attitudes of undecided voters one-month prior to an Italian election; treatment recommendations by physicians for black and white heart attack victims; and reactions to spiders before and after treatment for arachnophobia, or spider phobia.

“The Implicit Association Test is controversial because many people believe that racial bias is largely a thing of the past. The test’s finding of a widespread, automatic form of race preference violates people’s image of tolerance and is hard for them to accept. When you are unaware of attitudes or stereotypes, they can unintentionally affect your behavior. Awareness can help to overcome this unwanted influence,” said Greenwald.

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To visit the Project Implicit website and find out more about implicit associations, click here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see What Are the Legal Implications of Implicit Biases?,” Confronting the Backlash against Implicit Bias,” “Do You Implicitly Prefer Markets or Regulation?,” Legal Academic Backlash - Abstract,” “Naïve Cynicism in Election 2008: Dispositionism v. Situationism?,”  “Implicit Bias and Strawmen.”and “The Situation of Situation in Employment Discrimination Law – Abstract.”  For a list of Situationist posts discussing the research on implicit bias and the IAT, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – October 2009, Part III

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 27, 2009

blogosphere image

Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during October 2009 (they are listed in alphabetical order by source).

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From Neuronarrative: “When the Powerful Feel Incompetent, the Rest of Us Feel Their Wrath”

“[…]It’s no surprise that power and aggression often move along the same track. In particular, the threat of losing power is like striking a match near the aggression gun powder keg.  Studies have shown that the perceived need to protect one’s power kicks ego defenses into high gear, loaded with enough aggression to regret for a lifetime.” Read more . . .

From Neuronarrative: “Once You Start Trusting a Source, Beware the Trust Trap”

“If you follow a news commentator closely, reading everything he or she writes in whatever venue it appears, you may unknowingly be in a trust trap.  Studies have shown that once we invest trust in a particular source of knowledge, we’re less likely to scrutinize information from that source in the future.” Read more . . .

From We’re Only Human: “Sneezing at health care reform”

“[…]A stranger’s sneeze can be a good thing in a way. Think of it as a public service announcement, a very-simple-to-understand message about health risk. A sneeze can remind us to wash our hands and schedule our inoculations—probably more effectively than a lecture. But what if, in our hyper-vigilance, we overreact to everyday sneezes and coughs and sniffles? Can such signals change healthy prudence into an unreasonable fearfulness about germs and more?” Read more . . .

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For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Blogroll | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

A Mental Budget for the Holidays

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 23, 2009

From EurekaAlert:

If you feel like you’re in a losing battle with a triple-chocolate cake, a “mental budget” can help, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

“There are some behaviors that consumers try to limit but have trouble doing so,” write authors Parthasarathy Krishnamurthy . . . and Sonja Prokopec . . . . “Even as one aims to curtail consumption of sugars and fat, one ends up consuming the tiramisu or the triple-chocolate cake. Such discrepancies between one’s goals and actual behaviors represent instances of self-control failure.”

Overconsumption is a serious issue in the United States. For example, National Institutes of Health statistics show that two-thirds of American adults are overweight, with associated direct economic medical costs of $78.5 billion each year. About 70 million Americans are attempting to control their food intake.

So, how do consumers rein in overeating? In weight-loss systems like Weight Watchers, each food is assigned a point value and members are encouraged to limit their total daily consumption to a pre-specified amount of points.

The authors conducted several studies where they encouraged some participants to set mental budgets and compared them to people who did not set budgets. They examined their consumption of sweet treats.

They discovered several patterns. First, having a mental budget alone was not sufficient. Participants also needed to have an active goal of not wanting to consume sweets. Second, the information about the products needed to match the units of the mental budgets. Third, mental budgets succeeded when consumers followed specific numerical recommendations, like the Weight Watchers points.

“For those who wish to cut out those desserts, our research suggests some simple tips,” the authors write. “First, it is important to have a mental budget. At the very least, it allows you to keep track of how you are doing with respect to your goal. Second, make sure the budget works as a limit rather than a license for the consumption behavior. To do this, it is important to have an active goal of controlling the consumption.”

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You can find a preprint of the article, “Resisting That Triple-Chocolate Cake: Mental Budgets and Self-Control,” here. For other Situationist posts on food and drug issues, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Food and Drug Law, Life | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Cheating

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 22, 2009

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely, in the following video, describes one of his fascinating studies on the situation of cheating.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Interior Situation of Honesty (and Dishonesty),” The Situation of Lying,” “The Facial Obviousness of Lying,” Cheating Doesn’t Pay . . . So Why So Much of it?,” “Dan Ariely, a Situationist,” Dan Ariely on Cheating,”and “Unclean Hands.”

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Life, Video | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Situationism in the News

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 21, 2009

situationism-in-the-news

Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of the Situationist news over the last several weeks.

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From Fox News: “Romantic Rivalries Stir Religious Feelings”

“Rivals on the dating scene could make one feel closer to God, according to new research that suggests one’s religiousness may be more closely related to mating strategies than previously known.” Read more . . .

From Origins: “Does Studying Why People Believe in God Challenge God’s Existence?”

“[…] One leading model from cognitive science suggests that religion is a natural consequence of human social cognition and that we are primed to see the work of another thinking being—an agent—in the natural world and our lives. But a person of faith might give a different kind of answer: Religion arose because divinity exists, and belief in deities represents the human response to it.” Read more . . .

From  Seedmagazine.com: “As obesity rates soar, Americans are consuming more low-calorie artificial sweeteners. But do artificial sweeteners actually help people lose weight?”

“Could cheap, sugary soft drinks really be at the root of the obesity crisis in America? And if so, isn’t switching to artificially sweetened “diet” soda the obvious answer? Travis Saunders, an obesity researcher and ResearchBlogging.org health editor who blogs at Obesity Panacea, can at least answer the first question: The increase in consumption of sugars, especially high-fructose corn syrup, has marched in lock-step with the rise in obesity in the US over the past 30 years. He cites research suggesting that sugar actually disrupts the metabolism and makes you hungrier.” Read more . . .

From  The New York Times: “How Understanding the Human Mind Might Save the World From CO2”

“What will solve climate change? Will it be technology? Policy? A growing number of researchers and activists say it’s what’s behind it all: people. And understanding them is vital to addressing climate change.  The problem is that people don’t understand people very well, research shows.” Read more . . .

From The River News: “Discrimination is not always black and white”

“Well-intentioned people can discriminate against others without realizing they are doing so, said a speaker in the Bart Luedeke Center Theater Wednesday. Dr. Samuel Gaertner, the director of social psychology at the University of Delaware, […] said that, on an unconscious level, some people refuse to see that they are discriminatory. These people completely believe that they are not biased and try to live their lives as such, he said.” Read more . . .

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The Situation of Emotional Distress Claims

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 20, 2009

Betsy Grey has recently posted her intriguing paper, “Neuroscience and Emotional Harm in Tort Law: Rethinking the American Approach to Free-Standing Emotional Distress Claims” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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American tort law traditionally distinguishes between “physical” and “emotional” harm for purposes of liability, with emotional harm treated as a second class citizen. The customary view is that physical injury is more entitled to compensation because it is considered more objectively verifiable and perhaps more important. The current draft of the Restatement of the Law (Third) of Torts maintains this view. Even the name of the Restatement project itself – “Liability for Physical and Emotional Harm” – emphasizes this distinction. Advances in neuroscience suggest that the concern over verification may no longer be valid, and that the phenomena we call “emotional” harm has a physiological basis. Because of these early scientific advances, this may be an appropriate time to re-examine our assumptions about tort recovery for emotional harm.

Using studies of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as an example, this paper explores advances in neuroscience that have begun to shed light on the biological basis of the harm suffered when an individual is exposed to extreme stress. These advances underline the shrinking scientific distinction between physical and emotional harm. Drawing on these scientific developments, as well as on the British approach to emotional injury claims, the paper concludes that we should rethink the American treatment of emotional distress claims. In general, it proposes that we change our approach to account for advances in neuroscience, moving toward a more unified view of bodily and emotional injury. Two potential legal applications are advanced in this paper: (1) that science can provide empirical evidence of what it means to suffer emotional distress, thus helping to validate a claim that has always been subject to greater scrutiny; and (2) that this evidence may allow us to move away from the sharp distinction between how physical and emotional injuries are conceptualized, viewing both as valid types of harm with physiological origins.

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To download the paper for free, click here.  To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “New Study Looks at the Roots of Empathy,” “Placebo and the Situation of Healing,” “The Situation of Time and Mind,” “The Rubber Hand Illusion,” The Body Has a Mind of its Own,” “A (Situationist) Body of Thought,” and “A Closer Look at the Interior Situation.”

Posted in Abstracts, Emotions, Law, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Aaron Kay, “The Psychological Power of the Status Quo”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 19, 2009

Situationist Contributor Aaron Kay is an Assistant Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Professor Kay’s research has focused on the integration of implicit social-cognitive processes with the study of broad social issues. In his primary line of work, he investigates the myriad ways by which people cope with, adapt to, and rationalize social inequalities. At the moment, this research program addresses questions such as: (1) How do people rationalize and justify their good fortune and bad fortune, others’ good fortune and bad fortune, and the social systems that dictate these outcomes? (2) What are the psychological tools employed in aiding people to cope with the internal conflict produced from participating in social systems that are, in many objective ways, unfair and capricious?

At the second annual conference on Law and Mind Sciences, which took place im March of 2008, Professor Kay’s remarkable presentation was titled “The Psychological Power of the Status Quo.”  Here’s the abstract:

Although people tend to view their beliefs, values, and ideology as entirely the product of thoughtful deliberation, it is becoming increasingly clear that such a view is largely mistaken. In this talk, I will describe how the motivation to perceive the current status quo as just, legitimate, and desirable — an implicit motive known as “system justification” — exerts powerful and consequential effects on social perception and judgment.  My remarks will focus particularly on the role of system justification in maintaining social inequalities.

His talk was videotaped (though with poor lighting), and you can watch it on the three (roughly 9-minute) videos below.

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For more information about the Project on Law and Mind Sciences, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Motivated Situation of Inequality and Discrimination,”Thanksgiving as “System Justification”?,” Cheering for the Underdog,”The Unconscious Situation of our Consciousness – Part IV,” and “The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part III.”  To review all of the Situationist posts that discuss system justification motive, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Distribution, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy, Video | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

The Situation of Mortgage Defaults

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 18, 2009

Brent White recently posted his thoughtful paper, “Underwater and Not Walking Away: Shame, Fear and the Social Management of the Housing Crisis” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Despite reports that homeowners are increasingly “walking away” from their mortgages, most homeowners continue to make their payments even when they are significantly underwater. This article suggests that most homeowners choose not to strategically default as a result of two emotional forces: 1) the desire to avoid the shame and guilt of foreclosure; and 2) exaggerated anxiety over foreclosure’s perceived consequences. Moreover, these emotional constraints are actively cultivated by the government and other social control agents in order to encourage homeowners to follow social and moral norms related to the honoring of financial obligations – and to ignore market and legal norms under which strategic default might be both viable and the wisest financial decision. Norms governing homeowner behavior stand in sharp contrast to norms governing lenders, who seek to maximize profits or minimize losses irrespective of concerns of morality or social responsibility. This norm asymmetry leads to distributional inequalities in which individual homeowners shoulder a disproportionate burden from the housing collapse.

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You can download the paper for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Barbara Ehrenreich – a Situationist,” “The Situation of Subprime Mortgage Contracts – Abstract,” “Retroactive Liability for our Financial Woes,” The Situation of Credit Card Regulation,” The Financial Squeeze: Bad Choices or Bad Situations?” “The Situation of the American Middle Class,” “Warren on the Situation of Credit,” “Are Debtors Rational Actors or Situational Characters?,” and “The Situation of College Debt” – Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Posted in Abstracts, Distribution, Life, Morality | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of the “Invisible Hand”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 17, 2009

Invisible HandYesterday, Paul Rosenberg published an intriguing situationist piece at Open Left about the context and meaning of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.”   Here are some excerpts.

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What if Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” argument doesn’t mean what we think it means?  What if it doesn’t mean that everything else but the “free market” can and should be ignored?  What if if Smith actually depended on social and historical context in order to make his argument in the first place? What if it was an argument deeply dependent on what . . . The Situationist blog calls “the situation”?

In fact, that’s exactly what happened!

Recently, Berkeley economist Brad DeLong posted

“Yet Another Note on Adam Smith’s ‘Invisible Hand’: What It Is and What It Is Not”, in which he points out that the phrase “invisible hand” only occurs once in the whole of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. He then quotes a good-enough chunk of text to give the full context in which the phase occurs-an argument that merchants prefer to ship goods through their home port, even though it costs more (even needlessly unloading cargo), and thus produce much the same result as mercantilism in promoting domestic economic activity.

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It is within this context-the argument above-that Smith writes, “By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain; and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”

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In this passage, Smith is overtly talking like a behavioral economist, rather than a more orthodox “rational actor” or related sort of practitioner.   However, there’s an even deeper intellectual departure here, since his entire argument is based on a particular set of social institutions, expectations, past experiences and resultant practices, all of which contribute to his particular predilections that silently shape what is rational to him.

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We recommend the article in its entirety, which you can read here.  For a sample of related Situationist Ayn Rand’s Dispositionism: The Situation of Ideas,” “Posner on Keynes and the Economic Depression,” “Conference on the Free Market Mindset,” “Juliet Schor on the Situation of Consumption,” “Economist Stephen Marglin Thinking about Thinking Like an Economist.”

Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Deep Capture, History, Ideology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Steven Pinker at Harvard Law School

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 16, 2009

Steven PinkerSALMS Logo Small 2 for WebsiteOn Tuesday, November 17, The HLS Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (SALMS) and the HLS Harvard Graduate Mind, Brain, and Behavior (MBB) Steering Committee are hosting a talk by Steven Pinker entitled “A History of Violence: How We Became Less Violent.”

Steven Pinker is Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. Until 2003, he taught in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. He conducts research on language and cognition, writes for publications such as the New York Times, Time, and The New Republic, and is the author of seven books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, Words and Rules, The Blank Slate, and most recently, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature.

The event will take place in Austin North at Harvard Law School, from 12:00 – 1:00 p.m.  FREE Burritos!

For more information, e-mail salms@law.harvard.edu.  For a sample of related   posts, see Pinker on the Situation of Morality,” Another Century of Genocide?,” “Steven Pinker’s Ted Talks on ‘The Stuff of Thought’,” and “Time Changes Mind.”

Posted in Events, History | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – October 2009, Part II

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 15, 2009

blogosphere image

Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during October 2009 (they are listed in alphabetical order by source).

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From Deliberations: “When They Don’t See What You See”

“A recent study highlights what might be the most important thing lawyers and clients miss about how juries will react to their cases.  The same evidence that makes you angry at the other side might make jurors angry at you.” Read more . . .

From Everyday Sociology: “Equality in Justice: Cognitive Dissonance and Fame”

“Two cases involving the rape of a young girl have been in the news: one involving Roman Polanski’s arrest and the other about Elizabeth Smart’s court testimony. While these cases have the “adult male-minor female” rapes as their basic similarity, most other things have been very different, especially in news reports and public reactions.” Read more . . .

From The Frontal Cortex: “Calorie Postings”

“A new study reveals that all those unappetizing calorie counts on New York City menus – do you really want to know how much sugar is in a Frappuccino? Or that an Olive Garden breadstick contains hundreds of calories? – don’t lead to more responsible food decisions.” Read more . . .

From Neuroanthropology: “The Encultured Brain: Why Neuroanthropology? Why Now?”

“Neuroanthropology places the brain and nervous system at the center of discussions about human nature, recognizing that much of what makes us distinctive inheres in the size, specialization, and dynamic openness of the human nervous system. By starting with neural physiology and its variability, neuroanthropology situates itself from the beginning in the interaction of nature and culture, the inextricable interweaving of developmental unfolding and evolutionary endowment.” Read more . . .

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For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Blogroll | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

A System-Justification Primer

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 14, 2009

Here is a worthwhile Blogging Heads clip in which Josh Knobe interviews Situationist Contributor John Jost regarding the success of George W. Bush.

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To review a related set of Situationist posts, see The Motivated Situation of Inequality and Discrimination,” John Jost on System Justification Theory,” John Jost’s “System Justification and the Law” – Video,” “Independence Day: Celebrating Courage to Challenge the Situation,” Thanksgiving as “System Justification”?” and “Patriots Lose: Justice Restored!“  To review the full collection of Situationist posts related to system justification, click here.

Posted in Ideology, System Legitimacy, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Lawyers’ Complicity

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 13, 2009

LawyerCassandra Burke Robertson recently posted her intriguing article, “Judgment, Identity, and Independence” (Connecticut Law Review, 2009) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Whenever a new corporate or governmental scandal erupts, onlookers ask “Where were the lawyers?” Why would attorneys not have advised their clients of the risks posed by conduct that, from an outsider’s perspective, appears indefensible? When numerous red flags have gone unheeded, people often conclude that the lawyers’ failure to sound the alarm must be caused by greed, incompetence, or both. A few scholars have suggested that unconscious cognitive bias may better explain such lapses in judgment, but they have not explained why particular situations are more likely than others to encourage such bias. This article seeks to fill that gap. Drawing on research from behavioral and social psychology, it suggests that lawyers’ apparent lapses in judgment may be caused by cognitive biases arising from partisan kinship between lawyer and client. The article uses identity theory to distinguish particular situations in which attorney judgment is likely to be compromised, and it recommends strategies to enhance attorney independence and minimize judgment errors.

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You can download the article for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Gatekeepers Inside Out – Abstract,” “The Situation of Lawyers and Practicing Law,” Law, Chicken Sexing, Torture Memo, and Situation Sense,” The Situation of John Yoo and the Torture Memos,” “Why Do Lawyers Acquiesce In Their Clients’ Misconduct?,” Part I, Part II, and Part III, “The Illusion of Wall Street Reform,” “On the Ethical Obligations of Lawyers: Are We Snakes? Are We Supposed to Be?.”

Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Law, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Geoffrey Cohen on “Identity, Belief, and Bias”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 12, 2009

Situationist Contributor, Geoffrey Cohen spoke at the Second Project on Law and Mind Sciences (PLMS) Conference (in March of 2008).  His talk, titled “Identity, Belief, and Bias” summarized research exploring the way in which motivations to protect long-held beliefs and identities contribute to bias, resistance to probative information, and ideological intransigence.  You can watch Cohen’s outstanding presentation in the following videos (each roughly 9 minutes in length).

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of the Achievement Gap,” “The Project’s Second Conference – ‘Ideology, Psychology & Law’,” “Women’s Situational Bind,” and “The Implicit Value of Explicit Values.”

Posted in Ideology, Life, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Toll of Discrimination on Black Women

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 11, 2009

Black Woman StressFrom Eureka Alert:

African-American women experiencing discrimination no longer feel masters of their own destiny

Racial discrimination is a major threat to African American women’s mental health. It undermines their view of themselves as masters of their own life circumstances and makes them less psychologically resilient and more prone to depression. These findings (1) by Dr. Verna Keith, from Florida State University in the US and her colleagues, are published online in Springer’s journal Sex Roles.

Dr. Keith and her team used data from the National Survey of American Life: Coping with Stress in the 21st Century to analyze the relationship between perceived discrimination and depressive symptoms among 2,300 African American adult women. They also looked at whether personal mastery – the belief that one can control important circumstances affecting one’s life – explained the intensity of the women’s psychological response to discrimination, and whether experiences of discrimination differed by skin complexion. The effects of age and education were also assessed.

African American women who viewed themselves as being able to exercise some control over their life circumstances reported fewer depressive symptoms. Women who were subjected to higher levels of unfair treatment experienced more depressive symptoms, in part, because day-to-day discrimination undermined their overall confidence in their ability to manage life challenges, leaving them feeling powerless and depressed.

The authors’ analyses also showed that skin tone was not linked to level of discrimination, mastery or depressive symptoms. Older African American women reported slightly fewer experiences of discrimination, lower levels of mastery and fewer depressive symptoms than younger women. The more educated women felt more in control of their lives and experienced fewer depressive symptoms.

The authors conclude: “Our results show that perceptions of unfair treatment, like other chronic stressors, are psychologically burdensome to African American women. Our findings confirm that mastery mediates the relationship between discrimination and depressive symptoms and plays a major role in explaining why some African American women are more vulnerable to discrimination than others. Many women suffer emotionally because they are unable to view themselves as efficacious and competent actors when treated with suspicion and confronted with dehumanizing interactions.”

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The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” “Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,” Racism Meets Groupism and Teamism,” and “Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV.”

Posted in Abstracts, Emotions | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Barbara Ehrenreich on the Sources of and Problems with Dispositionism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 10, 2009

From GRITtv: “Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book looks at the downside of looking on the bright side, which she says has undermined America.”

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Barbara Ehrenreich – a Situationist,” The Motivated Situation of Inequality and Discrimination,” Thanksgiving as “System Justification”?,” “Cheering for the Underdog,” “Ayn Rand’s Dispositionism: The Situation of Ideas,” Deep Capture – Part X,” “Promoting Dispositionism through Entertainment – Part I, Part II, & Part III,”

Posted in Book, Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Ideology, Illusions, Life, Positive Psychology, System Legitimacy, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situational Power of Appearance and Posture

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 9, 2009

Appearance PostureFrom EurekaAlert:

First impressions do matter when it comes to communicating personality through appearance, according to new research by psychologists Laura Naumann of Sonoma State University and Sam Gosling of The University of Texas at Austin.

Despite the crucial role of physical appearance in creating first impressions, until now little research has examined the accuracy of personality impressions based on appearance alone. . . .

“In an age dominated by social media where personal photographs are ubiquitous, it becomes important to understand the ways personality is communicated via our appearance,” says Naumann. “The appearance one portrays in his or her photographs has important implications for their professional and social life.”

In the study, observers viewed full-body photographs of 123 people they had never met before. The targets were viewed either in a controlled pose with a neutral facial expression or in a naturally expressed pose. The accuracy of the judgments was gauged by comparing them to the aggregate of self-ratings and that of three informants who knew the targets well, a criterion now widely regarded as the gold standard in personality research.

Even when viewing the targets in the controlled pose, the observers could accurately judge some major personality traits, including extraversion and self-esteem. But most traits were hard to detect under these conditions. When observers saw naturally expressive behavior (such as a smiling expression or energetic stance), their judgments were accurate for nine of the 10 personality traits. The 10 traits were extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness, likability, self-esteem, loneliness, religiosity and political orientation.

“We have long known that people jump to conclusions about others on the basis of very little information,” says Gosling, “but what’s striking about these findings is how many of the impressions have a kernel of truth to them, even on the basis of something as simple a single photograph.”

Gosling cautioned that observers still make plenty of mistakes, but noted that this latest work is important because it sheds new light on the sources of accuracy and inaccuracy of judgments.

With this kind of knowledge, individuals can choose to alter their appearance in specific ways, either to make identity claims or shape others impressions of them, Naumann says.

“If you want potential employers or romantic suitors to see you as a warm and friendly individual, you should post pictures where you smile or are standing in a relaxed pose,” suggests Naumann.

For example, whether you smile and how you stand (tense vs. relaxed, energetic vs. tired) are important cues to judge a variety of traits. Extraverts smile more, stand in energetic and less tense ways, and look healthy, neat and stylish. People who are more open to experience are less likely to have a healthy, neat appearance, but are more likely to have a distinctive style of dress.

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From EurekaAlert:

Sitting up straight in your chair isn’t just good for your posture – it also gives you more confidence in your own thoughts, according to a new study.

Researchers found that people who were told to sit up straight were more likely to believe thoughts they wrote down while in that posture concerning whether they were qualified for a job.

On the other hand, those who were slumped over their desks were less likely to accept these written-down feelings about their own qualifications.

The results show how our body posture can affect not only what others think about us, but also how we think about ourselves, said Richard Petty, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University.

“Most of us were taught that sitting up straight gives a good impression to other people,” Petty said. “But it turns out that our posture can also affect how we think about ourselves. If you sit up straight, you end up convincing yourself by the posture you’re in.”

Petty conducted the study with Pablo Briñol, a former postdoctoral fellow at Ohio State now at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in Spain, and Benjamin Wagner, a current graduate student at Ohio State. The research appears in the October 2009 issue of the European Journal of Social Psychology.Sitting Posture

The study included 71 students at Ohio State. When they entered the lab for the experiment, the participants were told they would be taking part in two separate studies at the same time, one organized by the business school and one by the arts school.

They were told the arts study was examining factors contributing to people’s acting abilities, in this case, the ability to maintain a specific posture while engaging in other activities. They were seated at a computer terminal and instructed to either “sit up straight” and “push out [their] chest]” or “sit slouched forward” with their “face looking at [their] knees.”

While in one of these positions, students participated in the business study, which supposedly investigated factors contributing to job satisfaction and professional performance.

While holding their posture, students listed either three positive or three negative personal traits relating to future professional performance on the job.

After completing this task, the students took a survey in which they rated themselves on how well they would do as a future professional employee.

The results were striking.

How the students rated themselves as future professionals depended on which posture they held as they wrote the positive or negative traits.

Students who held the upright, confident posture were much more likely to rate themselves in line with the positive or negative traits they wrote down.

In other words, if they wrote positive traits about themselves, they rated themselves more highly, and if they wrote negative traits about themselves, they rated themselves lower.

“Their confident, upright posture gave them more confidence in their own thoughts, whether they were positive or negative,” Petty said.

However, students who assumed the slumped over, less confident posture, didn’t seem convinced by their own thoughts – their ratings didn’t differ much regardless of whether they wrote positive or negative things about themselves.

The end result of this was that when students wrote positive thoughts about themselves, they rated themselves more highly when in the upright than the slouched posture because the upright posture led to confidence in the positive thoughts.

However, when students wrote negative thoughts about themselves, they rated themselves more negatively in the upright than the slouched posture because the upright posture led to more confidence in their negative thoughts.

Petty emphasized that while students were told to sit up straight or to slump down, the researchers did not use the words “confident” or “doubt” in the instructions or gave any indication about how the posture was supposed to make them feel.

In a separate experiment, the researchers repeated the same scenario with a different group of students, but asked them a series of questions afterwards about how they felt during the course of the study.

“These participants didn’t report feeling more confident in the upright position than they did in the slouched position, even though those in the upright position did report more confidence in the thoughts they generated,” Petty said.

That suggests people’s thoughts are influenced by their posture, even though they don’t realize that is what’s happening.

“People assume their confidence is coming from their own thoughts. They don’t realize their posture is affecting how much they believe in what they’re thinking,” he said.

“If they did realize that, posture wouldn’t have such an effect.”

This research extends a 2003 study by Petty and Briñol which found similar results for head nodding. In that case, people had more confidence in thoughts they generated when they nodded their head up and down compared to when they shook their head from side to side.

However, Petty noted that body posture is a static pose compared to head nodding, and probably more natural and easy to use in day-to-day life.

“Sitting up straight is something you can train yourself to do, and it has psychological benefits – as long as you generally have positive thoughts,” he said.

For example, students are often told when taking a multiple-choice test that if they’re not absolutely sure of the answer, their first best guess is more often correct.

“If a student is sitting up straight, he may be more likely to believe his first answer. But if he is slumped down, he may change it and end up not performing as well on the test,” he said.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Imitation and Mimickry,” “The Situation of Trust,” “The Situation of Body Image,” The Magnetism of Beautiful People,” and “The Situation of Hair Color.”

Posted in Abstracts, Life, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Dan Gilbert on Why the Brain Scares Itself

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 8, 2009

Dan Gilbert1For the Harvard Law Record, Harvard Law Students, Anush Emelianova and Gustavo Ribeiro, wrote a nice summary of Dan Gilbert‘s recent lecture at Harvard Law School.  His lecture, titled “Why Does the Brain Scare Itself?,” drew a  crowd of roughly 150 students and contributed to Gilbert’s reputation as an amazing and captivating speaker.    Here’s Emilianova and Ribeiro’s description.

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Why does the brain scare itself?  On Monday, October 19, Professor Dan Gilbert confronted this question in an event sponsored by first-year Section VI. Professor Gilbert, who wrote  the bestselling book Stumbling on Happiness, is a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and the Director of Harvard’s Hedonic Psychology Laboratory. He opened his remarks by stating that the power of the mind to automatically make predictions by simulating outcomes is the key feature that distinguishes humans from other animals.

Because the brain is made up of semi-independent systems, it can talk to itself or even “scare itself.”   But Prof. Gilbert believes that the limited mental capacities of humans impose limits on the accuracy of predictions about the emotional impact of future events. He demonstrated this by identifying four limitations of the brain’s ability to simulate the future: unrepresentativeness, essentialization, truncation, and presentism.

According to Prof. Gilbert, humans’ mental simulations are unrepresentatively based on the individual’s best or worst memories, failing to correspond to the average experience.  When the mind produces imaginary scenarios, the images tend to be essentialized, that is, distilled to a simplified image with the details cut out.  Remembered experiences also interfere with accurate prediction because they are truncated and fail to incorporate the ability to adapt to different situations over time.  Furthermore, Prof. Gilbert believes the human mind has a “presentist” bias, accepting in most circumstances the fiction that tomorrow will be exactly like today and that the feelings at the moment of making a decision will persist until the outcome of that decision arises. As an example, Professor Gilbert demonstrated a photograph of a 16-year-old who had tattooed Pac-Man on her head, suggesting that the excitement of the moment would eventually give way to regret.

Professor Gilbert does not believe humans have the capacity to systematically prevent errors in mental simulations.  “As I marinate you in the bloopers and foibles, the mistakes and biases of the human mind, you must be thinking, is there anything we can do about this? I’m happy to tell you the answer is no,” he said.

Despite the failure of predictions to account for dynamic circumstances, humans tend to adapt or rationalize outcomes to make themselves feel better.  Prof. Gilbert illustrated this tendency with the satisfied attitude of Pete Best, the original drummer for the Beatles.

Despite missing out on being part of one of the most successful bands ever, Best said in a 1994 interview that, “I’m happier than I would have been with the Beatles.” Professor Gilbert argued that this was a striking example of rationalization.

Prof. Gilbert also indicated that there may be techniques available to minimize some types of cognitive error.  “Surrogation,” or asking others about their experience of a similar situation, can act as a more reliable guide than one’s own expectations. In fact, according to Prof. Gilbert, any random person’s actual experience of a given situation is likely to be much more predictive of our future enjoyment than our imaginary simulation of that same experience.

“Human beings are all basically the same.”

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The Project on Law and Mind Sciences will make the video of Gilbert’s talk available within the next few weeks.  To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Dan Gilbert To Speak at Harvard Law School,” “Dan Gilbert on the Situation of Our Decisions,” Dan Gilbert on the Situation of Psychology,”The Situation of Climate Change,” The Heat is On,”The Situation of Happiness,” and “Conversation with Dan Gilbert.”

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Emotions, Events, Illusions, Life, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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